Hearing on PSE&G power line continues Monday

By SETH AUGENSTEIN
saugenstein@njherald.com
NEWARK — Fundamental power grid strategy was on debate at the Board of Public Utilities offices Thursday and Friday.
The 500-kilovolt, high-tension controversy known as the Susquehanna-Roseland power line outlined a no-man’s land of the escalating national energy battle —whether traditional, large-scale energy generation and transmission methods are the best solution for the future, or if renewable, alternative, and diversified electricity sources and efficiency are a better choice.
Experts representing grid operator PJM Interconnec-tion and power company PSE&G described dire future power needs, saying power from the Midwest needs to be brought to the East Coast for reliable, cheap power. An alternative energy advocate disagreed, outlining a process of demand reduction and renewables that would obviate the need of “energy superhighways.”
A dozen attorneys representing supporters and objectors to the Susquehanna-Roseland cross-examined and argued over statistics, tongue-twisting acronyms, engineering details and reports over the course of the two full days, sandwiched in the full week’s worth of evidentiary hearings ending tomorrow.
The need issue is considered to be the climax in the hearings, and could be the main decider in the controversial power plans before the BPU, which propose erecting a power line that would double the height and power of a 45-mile stretch running from Pennsylvania through Sussex County, and onto Roseland, in Essex County. Roughly 18 miles of the length are in Sussex County, from Stillwater, to Fredon, Newton, Andover, Byram, Hopatcong and Sparta, before the line moves on to Morris County.
PSE&G, the state’s largest electric utility, said it needs to build the line and have it operating by 2012 to meet the electricity demands and reliability requirements expected for the region in the coming decades.
Opponents have rallied around several issues, including safety and health issues stemming from the system, the potential environmental damage the construction project will do, the visual and property value impact of the towers, and whether bringing in electricity generated in other states meets New Jersey’s goals of increasing so-called “green” and renewable sources of power.
On Friday, the PJM witnesses were challenged by a rapid-fire hour of questioning from Cynthia Holland, New Jersey’s deputy attorney general, who represented the BPU. The PJM experts admitted “uncertainty” in their forecasts of power consumption increasing sharply beginning in 2012. But, they said, those projections are the best models for the future, and demand a “robust” solution like the Susquehanna-Roseland, instead of individual “Band-Aids” for the 23 long-term power violations on the line, according to Paul McGlynn, manager in PJM’s transmission planning department.
“There is significant uncertainty around all elements of the planning process,” added Steven Herling, PJM’s vice president of planning. “The risk of being wrong is ... customers will have unreliable service.”
New Jersey’s goals of clean and renewable energy in the state’s energy master plan also became a live wire during the long hours of testimony. Julia LeMense, a lawyer for various environmental groups, questioned Esam Khadr, PSE&G director of electric delivery planning, about differences of opinion over pricing between the power company and PJM. Eventually, PJM’s “Project Mountaineer” — the export of coal-based energy from the Ohio Valley to the Northeast — was tied into the testimony.
“There is a big difference between Project Mountaineer and Susquehanna-Roseland,” Khadr stated, denying any connection between the two.
The objectors’ energy expert, Chris Cooper, advocated a future of energy efficiency and renewable energy eliminating the need for lines such as the Susquehanna-Roseland. Steven Goldenberg, the attorney for intevenor-supporter Exelon, led a line of questioning pointing out whether such an energy future could be in place by the time problems could arise on the grid. Cooper said the numbers could prove so — but those variables were unavailable from both PJM and PSE&G.
“They say, ‘We think we can solve X, but we can’t tell you what ‘X’ is,’” Cooper said.
Objections abounded among the lawyers. But Joseph Fiordaliso, presiding alone over the hearings, allowed almost all testimony into a voluminous record.
“I’d like to hear some of the answers myself,” he said at one point. “It might be the meat of the hearing.”
The hearings are expected to conclude Monday, with experts based on electromagnetic frequencies (EMFs) and property values, among other topics.